The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of MIPS Technologies, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Buying a MacBook was a big mistake!!! :-(

For the New Year, I bought myself a MacBook - a MacBook Retina Pro.

My old Lenovo X220 convertible tablet PC was dying - SSD errors everywhere (SpinRite fixed, but I could not trust the SSD any more) I could have replaced the SSD, but chunks of the plastic case were falling off, the USB 3 port had long since failed...

Plus, although I loved my pen computer, I had started using an iPad (my daughter's, although she was not using it), so my need for portable web browsing and email on a screen larger than my phablet was being better met --- while my need for a portable computer with lots of pixels that was convenient to do real work on was not being met.  The 1366x768 pixels are not enough - even my iPad mini has more resolution.

Plus, my daughter uses a MacBook, since her old school insisted on Apple.  I wish that she would switch to something cheaper, like Windows or Linux on a Wintel laptop - but she is happy.  And I figured that I would be able to help her more if I were more familiar with the MacBook, through everyday use.

Plus, I just upgraded my wife's and my daughter's iPhones, and I switched myself from Android to iPhone. Plus the iPad I mentioned above. The big reason for this was TouchID. Fingerprints are the Next Killer App. (I suspect that this is the real reason for the jump in Apple's sales for Xmas 2014.)

So I figured: Why not be 100% Apple and buy a MacBook?

Big mistake.

So I bought a high end MacBook Pro Retina, 2880x1800, 1TB disk.

(Actually, despite all the reasons for considering Apple above, I might have purchased a good Windows PC with a retina level display - except that at the time I could not find one with a 1TB SSD from the manufacturer.  And I had just been burned by buying an aftermarket SSD from Crucial, that turned out to have major loss-of-data problems.)

Big mistake.

Now, the MacBook is a pleasant machine.  Sure, there are annoyances like the Mac's option and command rather than control and alt - but you can get used to those.  If I could get away with only using Mac applications.

Unfortunately, I have to use some Windows applications. And/or Microsoft applications running on MacOS.

For example, I am writing this plaintive blog entry because the MacOS native Microsoft PowerPoint.app, is hung. Again.  When I kill it, it hangs again.  I have had to reboot my MacBook twice today to clear this problem.

OK, so maybe the fault is Microsoft's rather than Apple's.  Nevertheless, since I had fewer problems on Windows, it's a ding against buying my MacBook. 

Perhaps I should use non-Microsoft tools, like Apple's Keynote.app to prepare slides? Or something Open Source? Sure... but I have to be able to exchange .PPT files.  And the non-MS apps often produce .PPT that is broken, that is not WISIWTG  (What I See Is What They Get). Sometimes they cannot open the files.  And there are features missing.

FrameMaker was a biggie.  I need to use FrameMaker, an  obsolete techpubs app.  No longer available on UNIX, only Windows.  Attempting to use obsolete Version 7 FrameMaker on an old SUN SPARC remotely across a slow network wa painfully slow. So I transferred my PC Framemaker license to Windows 8 running on Parallels on my MacBook.   That was one of the big reasons to buy a 1TB SSD - I had filled up my old 512GB SSD with just one OS, and now I had to install two.

And this works acceptably well.  I can use FrameMaker on my Mac.

But...  using a virtual machine environment like Parallels is a pain.  Now I have two OSes to maintain: two OSes that must be updated regularly.  Twice as many reasons to reboot.  Sure, if I am rebooting the Windows Guest I can continue to use MacOS - but not vice versa.

My original plan had been to try to only use FrameMaker on Windows under Parallels, and use native MacOS apps for everything else.  My Office license gave me access to the native MacOS versions of all of the Microsoft apps I use.

Except... they are all a bit off. A bit lacking.  E.g. conversation mode doesn't really work in native MacOS Outlook.app.  So I started using Outlook under Parallels.   But now if I click on a link, it starts Internet Explorer.  Gack!  So I have to install Chrome inside Parallels, as well as Chrome on MacOS...

Eventually I have ended up with both MacOS and Windows versions of most of the apps I use installed.

And now things get really confusing.  I must say ctl-C under Parallels, and cmd-C in MacOS.  Now, which version of the app am I using?   If you type the wrong keystroke at the wrong app, crazy things happen.  (Remapping the modifier keys is a slippery slope...)

The only way I can stay sane is to try, as much as possible, to only use the more functional Windows versions of apps. It's still confusing when I have MacOS apps versus Windows.

Tell me again: if I am mainly using Microsoft apps under Parallels virtual machine, why did I buy a Mac again?

Yes: I insist on having UNIX-like commands.   But Cygwin gives me most open source UNIX commands and Microsoft/Windows apps, with a lot less hassle than using MacOS for UNIX-like commands and Parallels for Windows apps.

(Perhaps things would be better with Linux as the host and Windows running in Xen.  Linux and Windows have more similar user interface behavior than Windows and Mac.)

And then there are the generic Mac shortcomings:

I hoped and expected that MacOS, being beloved of artists and graphics folk, would support multiple monitors well.  BZZTTTTT!!!!  On my dinky little Lenovo I used to drive 3 external monitors: a 30" 2560x1600, and two 24" 1200x1920 to read full pages of books and papers.  My MacBook can only drive 1 of each - this would be totally unacceptable, except for the fact that the laptiop display itself is so nice.

Fingerprint: my old Lenovo had a fingerprint reader, no MacBook does (at this time).  This is especially annoying, since I am chanting "Fingerprints are the next Killer App", and bought an iPhone mainly to get TouchID.

LastPass does not work well in the Apple ecosystem.  I now have to type in my (long) password many more times a day than I used to.

MacOS apps usually do not come with uninstallers.  Supposedly they do not need uninstallers.  BZZZTTTT!!!!!   

Windows has some very useful user interface things - like bumping a window against the top or side to maximize. MacOS lacks these.   Add-ons like SizeUp help, but do not work for all apps.  Like, SizeUp does not work for EMACS, or for FrameMaker. My two most frequently used apps.

Overall, app behavior under the Window manager is much less consistent in MacOS.

MacOS has no equivalent of AutoHotkey. AppleScript comes close, but cannot do everything that AHK does.  (I had forgotten how many AHK shortcuts I used on Windows.  I can run AHK on Parallels - but then the shortcuts do not work everywhere.)

Did I complain about MacOS's lousy support for multiple, large, displays?

Like, you cannot move the notification area around.

Like, the Dock can only be at the bottom of a screen, or at the side of all - not at the side of any display, the way I can move the windows taskbar.

Windows spanning multiple displays on MacOS are awkward.  Not the default on Yosemite.  You can get them, but then you lose the Dock appearing on any display.

The whole basic Apple concept, dating back to Xerox, of a menu bar at the top of the screen, with several windows swimming in the display, is a big loss with a large display.  It's a LONG way on a 30" monitor, to move your mouse from the bottom right hand corner of a display to the menu bar at the top left hand corner. Would not be so bad if there were more keyboard shortcuts...  but Apple dislikes keyboard shortcuts, and no AHK equivalent.   No mouse warping.

Did I mention how expensive Apple hardware is?  PC hardware is about 33% less, if not half the price.


The list goes on and on.

After 2.5 months of using the MacBook, I like it less and less. 

It was probably a big mistake to buy a MacBook to run Parallels. It wopuld probably be better to run Windows with Cygwin. Perhaps Linux with Xen to run Windows, but even that is 2X the OS sysadmin work.

Perhaps one day I will not need to use Outlook, or PowerPoint, or Word.  Then, I think, MacOS might be worthwhile.  But not now.

Now, I am waiting for Windows 10 to be released.  If there is a retina class Windows 10 convertible, with touchscreen and pen and fingerprint, enough RAM and a 1TB SSD, I will switch. If I can afford to.  If buying the MacBook has not exhausted all o0f my computer budget for this year.


Now, the smaller list of what I like about the MacBook:

It does have a nice LCD.  (But so do many PCs nowadays.)

There is a large variety of interesting IMAP mail clients in the Apple MacOS app store. Some of them are almost as good as the iPhone and Android mail client apps.  There are far fewer of these on Windows.

Much of what I do nowadays is cloud based web apps.  These usually run okay on both MacOS and Windows.

But native apps on MacOS, or Windows apps under Parallels?  Better to be native Windows.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Conditional Text, Superposition, Quantum

I have been posting a lot about conditional text.  Work. FrameMaker. Bah!

Just read a Quantum Computing paper.

Conditional text and quantum seem related: both involve superposition, having a single value represent multiple.  If I advocate conditional text, should I also advocate quantum?

Here's a thought: why is quantum computing more efficient? If the answer is superposition, the increased efficiency may lie in the fact that  a single operation involving two values, one with M superpositioned values, and the other with N, usually corresponds to M*N non-superpositioned values.

In I-stages

    val.stage_i.j := val.stage[i-1].jj OP val.stage[i-1].kk

If 2-way superimposed by stage 0, doubles every stage =>  stage 1:2*2=4, stage:4*4=16, and so on.

Not just 2^N but is more.


But, if noise reduces the number of superposed states to a small finite number: then quantum is "only" a constant multiplier increase in efficiency.

I.e. in the presence of noise, quantum is not a big-O increase in computational efficiency.

This is so obvious that I am sure there must be a flaw in my reasoning.

Friday, December 05, 2014

WYSIWYG conditional text: distinguishing

One big problem for WYSIWYG conditional text is allwing the editor to recognize the conditions.

Basically, to do WYSIWYG editing of conditional text, you need to be non-WYSIWYG ... :-(

There are only a few things that you can do to distinguish different conditions:

* use color

* use font bold, italic.  Fontsize not so good.

* use background colors

* use marks like underlining, strikethrough, crosshatching.

Anything that is used to indicate conditions might conflict with the same visual effects used in the final document.  Not so bad if preparing for publication in the traditional press, which is largely black and white. Bad if you want to use those effects, e.g. on a webpage.

If you have limited colors, say 4, and limited effects, say single and double underling => well, you only get 8 combinations.   But even the v123 tABC example exceeds that.

You get to 4x4x4x2 if you allow all combinations of letter color, underline color. and background color. I don't know of a tool that does this.  Sure, it would look cluttered - but I suspect that my brain coukld decode.

Of course, have more colors than 4.  But conversely, probably don't use exactly the same colors - foreground text red on background red is useless.  The system probably needs to automaically adjust, so that it is foreground red on a immd red that can show the contrast.  Conventions.


Not to mention that we want to see overlapping tags.  E.g. reserve background color for one set of tags, v123; text for another tABC.   This doesn't scale.


Two effects may scale:

underlining with different colors

flyovers - these can indicate arbitrary combos of conditions.


Part of the trouble in managing WYSIWYG conditional text is that an upstream usr may decide to user a color that you have already used.

Quite apart from the logic.

Logic for conditional text

Before I talk more about WYSIWYG for conditional text, an observation:  tagging, labelling text.

For many years FrameMaker only allowed ORing of conditional text tags:  if a piece of text was tagged with both A and B, it would pint if either A or B was true.  There was no way of saying that both A or B had to be true.

Sure, FrameMaker eventually fixed that.  First ANDing. AND NOT. Then parenthesizes. I am not sure if it is arbitrarily complex yet, but it is better than it was. (I wish my company used that version of FrameMaker, or did not use FrameMaker at all.)

In theory all conditions could be expressed by sum of product minterms or product of sum maxterms, with NOT.  Hck, it could all be expressed by NAND and NOR.  But that would be a pain.

Part of the problem is that conditional text tagging is done at different times, by different people - or, worse, simultaneously by people who are not necessarily coordinating.  And that the logical expressions required are fragile - one contributor adding a tag may "EXPLODE" the logical expressions needed to handle his text, when transcluded by somebody else.  Fragile base class all over again!

Say that user1 is producing three versions of a document, tagged V1, V2, V3.  Just those tags are used- no "not-V1".  The logic to determine if text is displayed is not "V1 or V2 or V3" - it is actually "Untagged OR V1 OR V2 OR V3".  If text is tagged both V1 and V2, it displays if either V1 or V2 is being produced, but not V3.

(Much confusion occurs because people forget the implicit "Untagged".  Assuming "Untagged => "display in all versions".)

But user2 has added a different set of tags: let's say TA, TB, TC.  Same logic: "Untagged OR TA OR TB OR TC".

I am deliberately not using binary tags, X and not-X.  I have observed that often tags come in these mutual-??? sets.  Not really mutually exclusive - text may be tagged both V1 and V2.  But the V1 and V2 versions are conceptually separate.  The problem, of course, arises because I often like to create a readable mta-document, a unified version, rather than having to cope with combinatoric explosion.  But that's for later.

Now the user1 and user2 conditions may combine. Combinatoric explosion.

Emphasizing: it is NOT user1.condition OR user2.condition: NOT "Untagged OR V1 OR V2 OR V3" OR "Untagged OR TA OR TB OR TC" => "Untagged OR V1 OR V2 OR V3 OR TA OR TB OR TC".

E.g. we may be generating the combination V1.TB => "(Untagged OR V1) AND (Untagged OR TA)" 

Where people get into trouble is when they try to implement this via a UI (User Interface) which is supposedly simpl, and indicates whether tag is wanted or not via V1wanted=0 or V1wanted=1. Part of the trouble is that, at the very least, you need 3 stats for a wanted predicate: definitely wanted, definitely not wanted, and "I don't care".

As in "I want all text related to V1".

I don't want any text related to V2 (unless it happens to also be tagged related to V1".

And "I don't care if the text tagged V2 is included or not". 

In all cases the text is conceptually passed on to another layer, with the tags intact; and only at the end are all conditions stripped out.

E.g. V[123].T[ABC] => V[12].T[BC] => T[1].T[B].

Worse, the ultimate user may not know of options or tags added by a user earlier in this pipeline.  From the ultimate user's point of view, he may know that he dies not want any TC stuff, but he dos not know if user2 has added a TD alternative.  So the downstream user cannot say TA|TB|TD - he just says "Not TC".  Which is only meaningful in the context of a mutual group T[ABCD], whre "not TC" really means "Untaged OR TA OR TB OR TC" or "Untagged or Any Tag in the T* group except TB".

E.g. a microprocessor family that evolved through 8. 16, 32, and 64 bit versions, like x86 (not to mention 20 and 24 bit stags).

Let's say a user wants just the 8 and 16 bit versions.   If he says "not 32", then he gets 64.  Would that not be strange - having documentation for the 8 16 and 64 bit versions of a CPU, but not the 32?  (Although I can imagine...)

So saying "not 32" normally also implies "not 64".  Or, perhaps "not 32" really means "wordsize < 32" or "wordsize NOT >= 32".

But user1 may introduce a different tag that is not part of this evolutionary sequence - so not-32 should not imply not-virtual-machine.

The problem is that a condition that works at one time may not work going forward, as more tags are added.

Aspects, Conditional Text, and WYSIWYG

I like "aspect oriented programming".

In my undergrad, well before I had heard of AOSP, I was writing tools so that I could manage all of the aspects of an instruction definition in a single place - and then distribute them to multiple places.


instruction name: OR

encoding: 00000.rd5.rs5.imm16

action: GPR[rd] := GPR[rs] + imm16

traps: none

latency: 1

instruction name: FADD

encoding: 00000.fd5.fsrcA5.fsrcB5.imm16

action: FPR[fd] := FPR[fsrcA] + FPR[fsrcB]

traps: FP-traps

latency: 4

I would then split up this stuff to generate many different files used in CPU toolchain: simulator decoder, execution, disassembler, compiler timing tables, etc. Combining with other specs - e.g pipeline (latency might be defined there instead), etc.

(I also used to generate the opcodes to minimize logic, but that's a different story.)

But this invoves looking at the aspects sorted according to only one criteria, in this case by instruction. Sometimes you waant to sort by other criteria: the sort key is itself an aspect

E.g. sorted by property

instruction name: OR

instruction name: FADD

traps: OR: none

traps: FADD: FP-traps

encoding: FADD: 00000.rd5.rs5.imm16

encoding: FADD: 00000.fd5.fsrcA5.fsrcB5.imm16

action: OR: GPR[rd] := GPR[rs] + imm16

action: FADD: FPR[fd] := FPR[fsrcA] + FPR[fsrcB]

latency: OR: 1

latency: OR: 4

would like to be able to edit in any rearrangement of the aspects, and still have it generate.

Database views: some editable, some read only.

Later, realized that, even though might not be able to edit and regenerate some views, often can verify consistency of non-generatable view.


In techwriting, conditional text is the most primitive support for AOSP - AOTW? But conditional text can be hard to deal with. I would not be surprised if there was a polemic CONDITIONAL TEXT CONSIDERED HARMFUL.  Heck, in programming, I wrote a diatribe IFDEF CONSIDERED HARMFUL, very much the same.  And a friend has said that he would like to have a simulator with no IF statements... (not exactly that).

Ah, here are some TW equivalents of Dijkstra (why is it that techwriters do not write as well as Dijkstra the computer scientist?):

Similarly wrt transclusion. From woes-conditional-text:

When you have just a few conditions or transclusions with your content, there’s no problem. But when you suddenly realize that editing the topic is requiring an immense amount of concentration and careful analysis because you’ve got too many conditions or transclusions to sort out in your mind, you have to consider whether simply copying and pasting is more efficient.
This is very much like the Fragile Base Class Problem in programming - and many object oriented gurus recommend "reuse interface, not implementation".

I have made a minor step forward in this area by realizing that one of the good things from programming - writing tests that should apply to all implementations of an interface - also applies to documentation.  Many aspects (coincidence?) of documentation can be automatically tested.  Such automated tests for documentation help maintain invariants and standards both when there is lots of conditional text and transclusion, and when there has been lots of replication via cut and paste.


But what I want to talk about is making conditional text (and transclusion) easier to manage.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Now trying: Jawbone UP - who needs the stinking cloud anyway?

Elsewhere I have discussed how I was disappointed by the FitBit Charge as a replacement for my Basis B1 watch activity tracker.  So I returned the FitBit Charge, and am now trying the Jawbone UP.

I plan to use the Jawbone UP not as a replacement for my Basis B1 watch, possibly not even as an activity tracker at all - but as a vibrating alarm gadget on my wrist.

Why?  I think that vibrating on the wrist, rather than ringing annoying on the handset, might be the killer app for watches.

 I was reasonably happy with my Basis Watch as an activity tracker.  Certainly, it has upped my fitness level.  But I was frustrated by the following Basis shortcomings: (1) no sharing of data with other users, no friendly social scene; (2) no counting of vertical.

I bought a FitBit One to try to remedy these Basus shortcomings.  I have certainly liked the vertical distance metric: Portland ain't flat! I hoped to like the social aspects, LoseIt.com or MyFitnessPal.com - but that has not worked iout so well, yet.

I greatly disliked the FitBit One reporting only total steps, not tracking time of day. I disliked the FitBit One's wristband.

But mainly, I found that I *LIKED* the FitBit One's vibrating alarms: both wakeup, and occasionally during the day (time to head out, midmorning, lunch, midafternoon, time to head home, time for bed).  Should I admit that I often get so swallowed up by work that I don't notice what time it is?

I had hoped that the FitBit c=Charge would fill the bill.  Unfortunately, my Charge did not charge its batteries, or else discharged them far too quickly: it only worked for 15 minutes after charging for 24 hours.  Normally I would do an exchange - but the Charge felt like such a piece of shit - its interface being a single button that I could not tell if it had been pressed or not (as opposed to the nice tactile feedback of the button on the FitBit One or Garmin Vivofit) - that I did not feel like bothering.

So instead, I am trying a Jawbone.  Not the more expensive Jawbone UP3 or UP24, but the origional Jawbone, not wireless, which can be found fairly cheaply (especially if you are wiling to take an unpopular color).

MY plan, my theory:  I can use the Jawbone just for the "cvirbatuon" features:

(1) vibrating wake from sleep (aka a smart alarm)

(2) vibrating idle alert

(3) vibrating reminders.

Unfortunately, as usual there are annoying limits:

-- only 4 each of alarms and reminders

   ++ Stupid short sightedness.  HOw about a vibe alarm every hour of two?

-- the reminders seem to always generate a notification on my phone. Damn phone centric mindset: I do not want to have reminders on both phone and watch. I want to avoid the slowness of my phone as much as possible.

I may not want to use the tracking features of the Jawbone at all, except implicitly for the idle

After fitness, I think that notifications may be the killer app. But not a wrist notification for every email - selectivity!!!

Friday, October 24, 2014

10 things I hate about Git | Steve Bennett blogs

10 things I hate about Git | Steve Bennett blogs:

'via Blog this'

Sounds like the old "Bazaar:

Version control that doesn’t make your eyes bleed